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The Pubs Of Old London

July 6, 2020
by the gentle author

The Vine Tavern, Mile End

I cannot deny I enjoy a drink, especially if there is an old pub with its door wide open to the street inviting custom, like this one in Mile End. In such circumstances, it would be affront to civility if one were not to walk in and order a round. Naturally, my undying loyalty is to The Golden Heart in Commercial St, as the hub of our existence here in Spitalfields and the centre of the known universe. But I have been known to wander over to The Carpenters’ Arms in Cheshire St, The George Tavern in Commercial Rd and The Marksman in Hackney Rd when the fancy takes me.

So you can imagine my excitement – especially now the pubs have re-opened – to discover all these thirst-inspiring images of the pubs of old London among the thousands of glass slides left over from the days of the magic lantern shows given by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society at the Bishopsgate Institute a century ago. It did set me puzzling over the precise nature of these magic lantern lectures. How is it that among the worthy images of historic landmarks, of celebrated ruins, of interesting holes in the ground, of significant trenches and important church monuments in the City of London, there are so many pictures of public houses? I can only wonder how it came about that the members of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society photographed such a lot of pubs, and why they should choose to include these images in their edifying public discourse.

Speaking for myself, I could not resist lingering over these loving portraits of the pubs of old London and I found myself intoxicated without even lifting a glass. Join me in the cosy barroom of The Vine Tavern that once stood in the middle of the Mile End Rd. You will recognise me because I shall be the one sitting in front of the empty bottle. Bring your children, bring your dog and enjoy a smoke with your drink, all are permitted in the pubs of old London – but no-one gets to go home until we have visited every one.

The Saracen’s Head, Aldgate

The Grapes, Limehouse

George & Vulture, City of London

The Green Dragon, Highgate

The Grenadier, Old Barrack Yard

The London Apprentice, Isleworth

Mitre Tavern, Hatton Garden

The Old Tabard, Borough High St

The Three Compasses, Hornsey

The White Hart, Lewisham

The famous buns hanging over the bar at The Widow’s Son, Bow

The World’s End, Chelsea, with the Salvation Army next door.

The Angel Inn, Highgate

The Archway Tavern, Highgate

The Bull, Highgate

The Castle, Battersea

The Old Cheshire Cheese, Fleet St

The Old Dick Whittington, Cloth Fair, Smithfield

Fox & Crowns, Highgate

The Fox, Shooter’s Hill

The Albion, Barnesbury

The Anchor, Bankside

The George, Borough High St

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to read about

Sandra Esqulant, The Golden Heart

At the Ten Bells

The Carpenter’s Arms, Gangster Pub

At the Grapes in Limehouse

At the Hoop & Grapes

At the Two Puddings

At Simpsons Tavern

At Dirty Dick’s

At the Birdcage

19 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    July 6, 2020

    Cheers! and great news that pubs can now re-open again…

    One of my most memorable nights out was a pub crawl around the old inns of Southwark before gentrification of the borough. It was very Dickensian and spookily atmospheric, especially around the Clink Street area – and also ended at the iconic George of course!

  2. July 6, 2020

    Fascinating, as always, but I was riveted by the shop behind the pub in the first picture: John Slade, herbalist and seedsman (wreaths, vases, goldfish and aquariums). I’m looking at early seedsmen and nurserymen at the moment, so here is another name for the list! Thanks so much.

  3. July 6, 2020

    Names to make you wonder: George & Vulture, The World’s End, The Old Cheschire’s Cheese… Fantastic pictures.

  4. Bernie permalink
    July 6, 2020

    Please can someone explain the origin & meaning of “The Green Dragon”. My sister lived near the one in Winchmore Hill.

  5. Mary permalink
    July 6, 2020

    I would love to know how many are still there. I know The Grapes, The Widow’s Son and The Old Cheshire Cheese are still thriving. Does anyone know of any others?

  6. David Antscherl permalink
    July 6, 2020

    The London Apprentice, Isleworth! That image and name took me back half a century to the days when I was a student at the West Middlesex Hospital. I’m sure that the area is unrecognisable today. Cheers – and thanks for the memory.

  7. Jude permalink
    July 6, 2020

    GEORGE AND VULTURE. Not heard that pub name before LOL

  8. Josephus Muris Saliensis permalink
    July 6, 2020

    Green Dragon. Most likely originally the George and Dragon, but could have been St Michael killing his dragon, the saint then being removed from the inn sign in the Reformation. This is the origin of such odd things as “the Flower Pot” the remains of the picture once Mary and the Angel were scratched off, or the “Wagon Wheel”, which was probably St Catherine. “The Cross Keys” – St Peter; “Lamb and Flag” a pub near a house of the Order of St John, etc.

  9. Pauline Taylor permalink
    July 6, 2020

    I wonder how many of our relatives stopped for a tipple in these establishments? Quite a few I would imagine. I know for sure that one of mine, James William Greenwood, was a regular in one. James (Jim) was the author of many adventure stories for boys and also wrote many articles highlighting the social issues of the day. It is recorded that he would entertain his fellow journalists with stories and songs in the Old Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street and that he had a very good singing voice. That is something that I can well believe as I am as sure as I can be that his ancestors, and mine, the Beard family of Hampton, is the same family from which came the great tenor, John Beard, who sang for Handel. If anyone can find the baptism of John Beard they will earn my eternal gratitude, as, although all the circumstantial evidence is there that he came from Hampton, no one, not even his biographer, has found his baptism. I actually know more than the biographer but I still cannot find the baptism.

  10. paul loften permalink
    July 6, 2020

    The Old Chesire Cheese brings back some memories. My first job in 1968 from leaving school was in the office of the Nottingham Evening Post in Fleet Street and the Manager would always be in there. You knew where to find him. Norman Mears was the editor I think he was made a “sir ” but I could be mistaken. What a place it was! We used to have an old Irish fellow, Paddy who everybody in =Fleet Street knew, come into the office for a cup of tea. and he would stay all afternoon. He would tell us about all the latest goings on and the local gossip . He was a regular at the Harrow pub nearby and I remember his farewell when he eventually left the premises when it closed and locked up for the night. “There’s a hooly at the Harrow tonight lads, see you later”

  11. July 6, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a great trove of pub photos from long ago. There is no end of the treasures that you continue to unearth at Bishopgate. As a tourist, I have been to the few that are still standing, including the Old Cheshire Cheese and the George Inn. I visited the latter on a quiet afternoon so had plenty of time to peruse their galleries of old photos in every room.

    Suggesting an interesting book about the George – SHAKEPEARE’S PUB, A Barstool History of London as Seen Through the Windows of Its Oldest pub – The George Inn by Pete Brown.

    Glad to read that the pubs are reopening in London. Cheers!

  12. Lee permalink
    July 6, 2020

    The Angel and The Bull are two of my favourite Highgate pubs. But I’m not sure either is open again yet.

  13. Sue permalink
    July 6, 2020

    What a fabulous set of photos!

  14. Robin permalink
    July 6, 2020

    The Grenadier! A personal local favourite.
    Also The Antelope (not pictured here, but claiming roots back to the 17c).

  15. James Allen permalink
    July 6, 2020

    These photos are wonderful, and though you could argue that some of them looked too seedy dicey to venture into, at least they offer the virtue of atmosphere. Something that has been lost in the rebuilding, in the steel-and glass-ization of London.

    Are you aware of a “best” source for pub(s) history: names, locations, some general history/background? Or a book showing them along with a map placing their location in the city?

    Thanks again,
    James Allen

  16. July 6, 2020

    Miss an afternoon frittered away in a pub. No such thing exists here in America, and thanks to Covid it’s not safe to hit the bars right now. Thanks for the nostalgic tour.

  17. July 6, 2020

    When cocktail hour rolls around here in the Hudson Valley, we will toast all of YOU.
    I loved squinting at all the details of these photos, making up stories as I went. I spent quite a while with “The Old Tabard” — take another look, and see if you agree. Chockfull of goodness.

    A round of Manhattans, here at this table, barkeep.
    And don’t forget the cherries.

  18. July 6, 2020

    Great Vintage Pubs. They don’t look like ours of Today!!??????

  19. Bob McArdle permalink
    July 8, 2020

    Lovely photo’s, thanks for this.
    What is the photo of betweenThe Fox and The Albion?
    It’s my fave pub photo, if indeed it is a pub! It’s like one of the Wild West three fingers of red eye pubs, with the ladies in their boudoirs upstairs.

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